Greeting blog readers, random internet browsers, and Karla. It’s the last week of school. In-fact, it’s my last week at Caltech for a while. I’m going to be in Singapore for 2 months, followed by a three-week interlude of gallivanting across Europe and Asia before I start study abroad in Scotland until late December. Gone for a bit over 6 months. From Pasadena, from Colorado, and from the U.S. in general. It’s a bit of a scary thought but I’d be lying if I said I was anything but excited to start this adventure.
Anyways. This blog post is going to catalog the week of goodbyes. The week of emotions. Last finals. New hellos. Old goodbyes. And other clichés we use to fill this strange location of Pasadena, California.
Mainly, I said goodbye to the U.S. by doing the thing I do most here: eating. I went to a few new restaurants and then two old favorites (Daddy’s Chicken and Super Burger). The odd thing I’ve noticed about Los Angeles is that there isn’t really a defined food culture. There’s not a lot of food that’s quintessentially American (maybe burgers. I had In-N-Out too right before I left). And so, exploring that in a way is at least one way that I’ll always be able to connect to my roots here.
I also had to say goodbye to a lot of friends. People I work with in admissions, dining. My friends who I spend hours agonizing over sets with during the weeks. A couple of dogs I like to hang out with. The Pokémon Go Pasadena group. It’s a bit odd to have made so many close connections over the past two years that there are that many people I’m going to miss (and who might miss me too). But it feels nice to have people that close. That’s part of what Caltech gets you, small school and all.
And of course, I ended my trip with one final visit to my true home in Pasadena, Labobatory. I know that there’ll be boba everywhere I’m going but Labobatory has a special place in my heart, between the people and the drinks. In terms of food, I think I’ll miss that most of all.
With 45 Nobel Laureates on its Faculty Roster, it’s not surprising that research is an integral part of the Caltech undergraduate experience. One of the programs that promotes such research is the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). There is no minimum knowledge or experience required to participate in a Caltech SURF. In fact, students can participate in a SURF as soon as the summer after their freshman year. It is not difficult to get a SURF. All you need to do is find a mentor who is working in an area of research that interests you and willing to mentor you through a research project. The mentor can work in a Caltech lab, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), or at another participating institution. Once you find a mentor, you work together to write a project proposal that you later send to the SURF office for review and approval. About 98% of the SURF proposals get approved. This fellowship is a great way to explore various fields of research and obtain real, hands-on experience where you get to apply the theoretical knowledge you’ve learned in class. Not only do you get to work and learn alongside your mentor, but you also get compensated for your time. The length of the SURF is ten weeks, and it starts at the beginning of the summer. However, it is not uncommon for many students at Caltech to continue their research project throughout the academic school year.
Like many students at Caltech, I suffer from a slight boba addiction, where side effects may include over caffeination, minor sugar highs, and of course, a large toll on one’s wallet. This addiction is not helped by the fact that there are at least three boba shops within walking distance of campus. So, after an entire term’s worth of boba runs, I came back from winter break with a new year’s epiphany: it was time to get a job. Rather than try to curb my addiction, I decided to find a way to subsidize it.
Research at Caltech looks different for every student, and can often vary term by term. As a chemistry major, my course requirements are on the lighter side for a Caltech major, and many chemistry majors take advantage of the lighter course load to join research groups. This can be whenever the student wants, but many people join labs during their freshman or sophomore years. Some may work in one lab only, and some may switch between labs during the course of their undergraduate studies, depending on if their interests change.
SURF, short for Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, is a quintessential experience for any Caltech student. It is a widely accessible research fellowship for Caltech students that funds your proposed research for one summer term. While many of my classmates did their first SURF the summer after their freshman year, I sent in my first application to the program as a sophomore. As a CS major, I was trying to chase meaningful work that intersected computation with the field of neuroscience. I ended up doing a SURF at the Stanford School of Medicine that first year, studying hand gestures in children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Since then, I’ve been working in the research space of applying computational analyses to ASD.